BooksOfTheMoon

Under the Pendulum Sun

By Jeannette Ng

Rating: 3 stars

A gothic Victorian themed novel with added fae? Sounds right up my street. In a world where the Fae are real, and their home, Arcadia, can be found (ironically, only by getting lost), England does what it’s always done when a new frontier is opened up (no, not that one, but see below): sends missionaries to convert the heathens to the One True Faith. When Christian missionary Laon stops replying to her letters, his sister Catherine resolves to follow him there and find out what happened to him.

This is a very slow paced book, that works well for the gothic feel that it’s trying to invoke. The mysterious housekeeper is more Mrs Danvers than Mrs Fairfax, and the first meeting between Catherine and Laon, outside the castle of Gethsemane, that has been provided for the mission, is heavily reminiscent of Jane Eyre‘s first meeting with Mr Rochester. There’s more than one mystery around the castle and Catherine has to try and solve them, and to help Laon win his prize from the Pale Queen: access to the interior of Arcadia.

There’s a strong theological bent to this book, which sometimes makes it difficult for someone like myself, who grew up outwith that tradition, to follow the more subtle aspects of the discussion. While I’ve learned the core of Christian theology (partly, you sort of absorb it through osmosis in Britain, and partly, I wanted to be able to argue from an informed point during my Angry Young Atheist phase), it sort of feels like the whole book revolves around aspects of Christian theology that I struggled to follow.

The other problem I had with the book, is nothing to do with Ng or her writing, but purely what I wanted from it. When I read the description, my head immediately went to a completely different place: to the idea that empires of that era sent missionaries and were quick to follow them up with soldiers. I was intrigued by the idea of the British Empire trying to colonise Arcadia, and the way that temporal power was used to back up spiritual. That’s an interesting (to me) idea for a story, but it’s not the one that Ng wanted to tell. And that’s fine, but I still came away a bit disappointed.

Spoiler
It’s definitely a spoiler, so hidden, but I can’t not mention the incest. While the early descriptions had me feeling an usually close bond between brother and sister, when it develops into full-blown incest, that pushed me right out of the story. No matter that Catherine thought she was a changeling at the time, they were raised together as brother and sister. It was important for the plot, in terms of sin being important to the Pale Queen (gotta say, I still don’t entirely follow that), but I still didn’t like it.

Book details

ISBN: 9780857667274
Publisher: Angry Robot
Year of publication: 2017

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